Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: November 14, 2023

Put the 'inn' in innovation: HospitalityMaine panelists say small steps go a long way

Three people seated on stage Photo / Renee Cordes From left, Bill Seretta of Fork Food Lab, Matthew Powell of the Pentagoet Inn & Pub in Castine and Aroma Joe's franchisee Maryna Shuliakouskaya speak about "soft innovation" at the HospitalityMaine summit on Monday.

After Matthew Powell and George Trinovitch moved two years ago from New York to Maine to buy the Pentagöet Inn & Pub in Castine, they collected recipes from neighbors, organized Sunday brunches, and held spooky story times and other off-season events for local residents.

"We want to be part of the fabric of whatever town we go to," Powell told the crowd Monday at the annual summit of HospitalityMaine, an industry group representing the state's hotels, restaurants and related businesses.

For Powell and Trinovitch, the effort paid off, helping return the inn to profitability.

"We have really transformed the space into something that we're proud of," Powell said during a panel discussion on "soft innovations," like the ones he and Trinovitch introduced in Castine. The duo, recently honored on the Mainebiz 40 Under 40 list, were named HospitalityMaine's 2023 Innkeepers of the Year this week.

Around 350 people registered to attend HospitalityMaine's 2023 summit, which was continuing Tuesday at the Portland Sheraton at Sable Oaks in South Portland. The gathering wraps up with a legislative update and sessions on technology innovations and shaping culture for staff and customers.

Bill Seretta, executive director of Fork Food Lab, moderated Monday's panel on "soft innovation." Fork Food Lab is a shared commercial kitchen and food-business incubator in South Portland used by more than 65 companies.

While innovation is often linked to technology, Seretta said that's not necessarily the case. Innovation can be as simple as making small changes related to employees, customers, products and services.

"Innovation is just adding to what you're already doing and modifying it in a way that makes it better," he said. During the pandemic, for example, most Fork Food Lab members had to convert almost overnight to curbside pickup and products-to-go, which would have been unheard of four or five years ago.

"Now it's part of their service, year-round, particularly in winter months," he said.

Customer engagement in a cup

At coffeehouse chain Aroma Joe's, some locations switched gears during the pandemic by tucking personal notes signed by baristas into product deliveries, according to Maryna Shuliakouskaya, a franchisee of nine shops.

"It was maybe not always the perfect experience, but at least there was a face behind making that order," she said.

Her franchises have continued the practice to this day, writing little notes of encouragement on cups like "You rock" or "Your day with got better" to customers.

She said the notes substantially improved customer service, adding, "It's another little touch that can go further."

On a more personal note, Shuliakouskaya spoke about how corporate job titles can sound intimidating to employees such as the 300 people who work for her. In her mind, however, she's the same person she was back when she was an entry-level dishwasher after immigrating from Belarus.

"For me, I'm just Maryna," she said.

Sign up for Enews

Related Content


Order a PDF